Under order of selection, Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) must first serve the most significantly disabled (MSD). That means that many job seekers on your caseload will be individuals designated as MSD and may benefit from customized employment.
It’s vital then that, as an employment specialist (ES) or VR counselor, you understand what customized employment is and what it isn’t. It’s important that you know how and when to negotiate individually crafted, customized employment for job seekers.
Job seeker, not labor market, is the starting point.
Customized employment (CE) is NOT the same thing as supported employment. According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), customized employment is “a process for achieving competitive integrated employment or self-employment through a relationship between employee and employer that is personalized to meet the needs of both.”
CE begins with Discovery to identify ideal working conditions, workplace contributions, and preferences for an individual. From this point, an employment specialist pursues individually negotiated employment.
ODEP and the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act define CE as a flexible strategy designed to match job seeker strengths with business needs. Integrated and competitive are key components of CE and it does not take place in segregated enclaves or on mobile work crews comprised of only workers with disabilities. Instead, experts like Marc Gold & Associates and Griffin-Hammis Associates characterize CE as a strategy resulting in a balanced employment relationship where both parties (the job seeker and the employer) benefit from a negotiated job outcome.
Customized employment creates a job for tomorrow that might not exist today!
How, exactly, is CE different from supported employment?
1. Customized employment requires creativity.
As an employment specialist or consultant, you will meet job seekers with complex impacts from their disability, so ensure that Discovery is individually driven. Using pre-developed or standardized lists of Discovery activities has no place in the supported or customized process. As such, creativity is a must-have skill for the ES.
CE requires the ES to discern discrete and reliably persistent skills the job seeker may offer to an employer. Launching from that information, the ES must then use creative thinking to imagine how those skills might translate to a business need. The ES must then engage businesses to learn how job seeker skills can be used to create a position that results in value to the business, gives the business a competitive edge, or fulfills an unmet business need.
2. Customized employment requires well-honed job development skills, especially job negotiation.
Job negotiation and business engagement skills are essential throughout CE. To create value for the business by applying the job seeker’s skills and simultaneously creating preferred and valued employment for the individual, the ES must be able to align both set of interests. Among other aspects, business engagement involves positive marketing, clear messaging, and relationship building. Job negotiation requires the ability to critically assess workplace cultures, complete job and workplace analyses to discern employer needs, and create individualized job proposals based upon those results and knowledge of the job seeker. The ES must wear many hats and develop these critical skills over time.
3. Customized employment eliminates applicant competition.
Open labor market positions do not drive customized employment. Rather, a one-person-at-a-time process drives CE. The eventual job proposal is unique and based solely on what the job seeker has to offer, whereas labor market positions are based primarily on what the employer needs. And because an individualized job proposal anchors CE, there is no competition among other potential applicants. This removal of competition with other applicants provides a powerful advantage to the job seeker!
4. Customized employment may mean self-employment.
Some job seekers may decide that entrepreneurship best fits their needs and job goals. When this is the case, the ES must assist by providing resource awareness to the job seeker and their supporters. For some job seekers, family will provide primary support. VR may be able to provide technical and grant support when the time comes for business planning. Other available supports include the Indiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Senior Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). Both are generally free resources available across the US.
- ODEP on Customized Employment—CE strategies and reference documents.
- CCLC: Taking the Road to Self-Employment—A variety of helpful resources for the ES and job seeker.
- Marc Gold & Associates—They provide useful information about CE.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month
On August 11, 1945, President Harry S. Truman approved a Congressional resolution declaring the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”
In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. Congress expanded “National Employ the Handicapped Week” to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” which is recognized now each October.
Check their website to learn more about the NDEAM’s mission and activities.